Long Day Care vs Preschool; A Detailed Comparison

What is the difference between long day care centres and preschools? What are the pros and cons of each? Read on to help you decide what is best for your child.

Introduction to Long Day Care vs Preschool

When it comes to early learning programs, it can be confusing to differentiate between the services and programs that are available for families. Research has shown that children who access high-quality early learning programs are better prepared for school and have higher levels of literacy, emotional and social skills as opposed to those that did not attend a quality early learning program. There is no doubt that these programs are important, but how do parents choose what is best for their family. Read on to find out about long day care and preschool programs across Australia.

What is Long Day Care?

Long day care refers to childcare services that are delivered within an approved childcare centre. Most centres cater for children from birth to school-age and are available to care for children whilst their parents work, study or attend to other commitments. In Australia, childcare centres can be council owned, community-based or privately run.


Long day care centres typically open early in the morning and close in the evening, although the hours can vary from centre to centre to meet the needs of the community. Families are mostly able to access child care on a full or part time basis from Monday-Friday and regular bookings are usually necessary.

Long Day Care, Preschool
Long Day Care centres can offer care from quite early to quite late in the day, which is attractive to many working parents. Preschool hours are often 9-3.

The government provides support for families to access child care services through the Child Care Subsidy scheme to help make the cost of attending child care services more affordable. You can find out more about this via the government’s My Child website.

What is Preschool?

Preschool programs are early learning programs for children aged 3 to 5 years. In some states preschool programs are referred to as ‘kindergarten’ or ‘kindy’. The central purpose of preschool is to educate children through play in the year before they start formalised schooling – therefore most children who access preschool are aged 4 or 5 years old.

Long Day Care, Preschool
Early learning programs have been shown to make a huge difference in a child’s early education and overall school readiness

Preschool programs are delivered by qualified teachers within a dedicated preschool and some long day care centres offer a preschool program as part of their service. Across Australia, all children are entitled to a full year of preschool for 15 hours per week (or 600 hours in a year). Each state has slightly different offerings when it comes to preschool, but you can find out exactly what your state or territory offers here: https://raisingchildren.net.au/preschoolers/play-learning/preschool/preschool-in-your-state

Whilst most preschools across Australia utilise the national Early Years Learning Framework to guide their practice, some preschool programs are underpinned by particular educational philosophies, such as Steiner, Montessori and Reggio Emilia.

What is the difference between preschool and long day care?

Whilst long day care can run from 6am-6pm each day, preschool is usually limited to particular hours and attendance is capped. In Australia, the Government has a commitment to ensuring that all children have access to a quality preschool program in the year before they start school through the Universal Access National Partnership (UANP). This national program allows preschool-age children to attend 15 hours of preschool per week or 600 hours per year. The UNAP funding benefits about 350 000 children each year by making access to a quality preschool program affordable.  Whilst some long day care centres might provide a preschool program, there is a clear differentiation between a child care and a preschool program.

Long Day Care, Preschool
Cost can be a huge factor in determining what is better for your family – the government can offer some assistance for most families through the Child Care Subsidy (CCS)

What are the disadvantages of Long Day Care?

Long day care can be expensive for many families – even with the child care subsidy. The average cost of attending a long day care program across Australia is $114.68 per day. Whilst this cost can vary from centre to centre and state to state, parents will typically pay over $100 per day for a long day care program. Contrary to this, some preschool programs charge as little as $50 for a whole term of preschool – so affordability is certainly a barrier to some families accessing quality child care programs in Australia.

Since the introduction of the National Quality Standards, long day care centres are required to ensure that children have access to a 4 year trained early childhood teacher (ECT). In centres with fewer than 25 children, the ECT must be available for at least 20% of the time the service is operating and this percentage increases as the number of children increases.  Whilst this is very positive, preschool programs are always run by an ECT and these teachers usually have access to more and better professional development training than their long day care counterparts. The data around the National Quality Standards assessment and rating process clearly demonstrate that stand-alone preschool programs usually rate much higher than programs provided within long day-care centres – indicating that the quality of the program may be much higher within designated preschools.

What are the disadvantages of Preschool?

Some families find the hours difficult for stand-alone preschools as they often make it challenging for working families. A 9am-3pm preschool day can make drop off and picks ups difficult and some families pay other child care providers to care for their child either side of these hours, further increasing the cost for them to access the program.

Is preschool better than long day care?

Whilst stand alone preschool programs typically rate higher on their NQS assessment and rating process – particularly in the area of educational program and practice – there is huge variance across the country. Some long day care programs have been rated as ‘Excellent’ and provide outstanding programs, whilst others continue to be ‘Working Towards’ a rating to show that they meet the NQS. It is very difficult to determine if preschool or long day care is better and instead I would encourage families to become familiar with the assessment and rating process to determine if their local centre or preschool is of high quality. Starting Blocks provides an excellent rating guide that can be helpful for parents to understand the rating process. You can find this helpful guide here: Child care service rating guide with Starting Blocks.

Long Day Care, Preschool
Quality early learning programs can be found in both preschools and long day care centres. It’s important to review the centre’s rating under the National Quality Standards.

Are preschools open in school holidays?

Preschool programs typically run in alignment with the school terms for each state and therefore are closed during the school holidays.

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Can I claim CCS for Preschool?

Children who attend stand-alone preschool services are not eligible to receive Child Care Subsidy. Preschool programs that are delivered through a centre-based child care service are eligible if they run a government approved preschool or kindergarten program.

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For preschool-age children whose CCS subsidy is less than 24 hours per fortnight, they are able to claim a CCS exemption. The exemption states that ‘parents who do not meet and are not otherwise exempt from the Child Care Subsidy activity test will be entitled to 36 hours of subsidised care per fortnight to support their preschool-aged child to attend a preschool program at a Centre Based Day Care service’. If you would like to learn more about the preschool exemption, visit the Services Australia website here: Child Care Subsidy – Exemptions – Services Australia.

Is Preschool free in any states in Australia?

Recently, states and territories have been beginning to recognise the importance of preschool programs and therefore working to increase access by reducing fees for families. Here is a simple state and territory breakdown:

–     In the ACT and SA, preschools have no fees but usually have a voluntary contribution levy.

–     In NSW and Queensland, preschools usually charge fees that are set by the providers. They sometimes offer flexible hours for working parents and mostly operate as stand-alone services.

–     In Tasmania and WA, most preschools are government owned, located in schools and have no fees. 

–     In Victoria, preschools are mostly stand-alone centres that are managed by parent committees and have fees.

Fortunately, many states and territories have recently shown a deepening commitment to supporting children’s access to early learning so it is exciting to see what will occur in this space over the coming years.

Long Day Care, Preschool
Ultimately, the choice between long day care or preschool depends on family circumstances and values

Summary of Long Day Care vs Preschool

Providing your child with access to a high-quality early learning program will help give them a great start in life and ensure they develop some important school readiness skills. Whether long day care suits your family needs better or a stand-alone preschool is your first choice – there is no real ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ choice. The most important factor in determining the suitability of an early learning program for your child is the centre’s quality rating and how comfortable you feel within the centre. Visiting, meeting staff and having a look around will help you to decide what is best for you and your child. Have you checked out your local child care and preschool centres? If not, CareforKids can help you find what is available in your local area: Child Care Providers – CareforKids.com.au

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